Learning where it truly matters

Lim Zhi Rong, HR Director at Unilever, says HR remains a profession where practitioners need to have their head and heart in the game.

HR remains one of those professions that are agnostic in industry, and professionals can swap roles from one part of the economy to another. Thus, one of the things HR professionals can do to develop themselves is to seek a variety of experiences, ranging from business-to-business operations to consumer sectors.

I was with The Linde Group during the early days of my career. Linde was a business-to-business company that sold industrial gases to enterprises. After The Linde Group, I joined Mondelēz International which was in the business of selling chocolates to consumers like you and me; it was a business-to-consumer company. 

These opportunities allowed me to gain first-hand experiences in a wide range of industries, equipping me with multiple perspectives.

The exposure was valuable and it helped sharpened my business acumen.

Seek to partner the “business to the core”

I also strongly believe that HR professionals should partner the business “to the core”.

What do I mean by that?

If you are working in an investment bank, have you ever thought about partnering your investment colleagues in a merger or acquisition deal?

HR can conduct due diligence for the transaction team, and assess what is the HR capital and operating expenditures of the company to be acquired.

This enables the investment team to make an informed decision of whether is it a good idea to proceed and to understand what are the people risks involved if the bank decides to go ahead with the transaction.

The crux of the matter is this: don’t simply partner the business on regular day-to-day operations and succession planning.

Truly partner the “business to the core”, where it matters most commercially.

Go global, or somewhere outside home

As the heading indicates, HR professionals should aim to “go global”, or at the very least, go somewhere outside home.

Singapore is a hub for many multinationals in Asia. As a result, there are many regional HR roles in Singapore.

But the truth here is that HR professionals need a good mix of country and regional HR experience. If you have been in a regional role for many years, leave your comfort zone and take on a country HR role.

Stop living in your regional ivory tower and start immersing yourself in a country HR role to understand the opportunities and challenges.

The next time you return back to a regional HR role, you will be in a better position to command the respect and credibility as a regional HR leader. 

If you have been in a country role for many years, take on international assignments and gain regional HR exposure.

Understand what it takes to drive synergies, unleash best practices across various teams, and drive the strategic regional agenda.

A well-rounded HR professional would have amassed both regional and country HR experience.

What is your career ambition?

Last but not least, you have to ask yourself what is your own career ambition.

Do you want to be a “Local Guru” HR leader, or an “International Nomad”?

A local guru refers to an HR Leader who has spent the bulk of their career in the HR function as a generalist, or having run one of the Centres of Excellence.

Their exposure to the business would have been gained via a series of business partnering roles and overseas exposure within Asia.

This is highly valuable and sought-after today, in light of increasingly protective employment laws in Asian markets as well as the general scarcity of HR talents who command a global mindset and an Asian point of view.

An international nomad refers to a HR Leader who has spent a considerable number of years outside their home country, both within and outside Asia.

Usually, they have had experience working in both developed and developing countries.

The key here is to understand your own internal career desires, motivations and ambitions.

Knowing that will help you shape the next career milestone that you want to achieve, that next rotation you’re after, or even the next career move to another company to develop yourself further as an HR professional.  

About the author

Lim Zhi Rong is a HR Director with Unilever. He was previously the Regional HR Business Lead for the Asia-Pacific region with Mondelēz International.

Zhi Rong first started his career with Singapore’s state-owned investment holding company, Temasek Holdings, where he was the HR business partner for the company’s investment group.

He was shortlisted as a finalist in the 2016 HRM Awards for the Best HR Leader category.